The same company that installed bins with digital ad screens during the 2012 London Olympics has now added a gadget to some of them that can track smartphones, eventually allowing for more targeted sales pitches.
During last year’s Summer Olympics, London-based Renew installed recycling bins around the city that were equipped with digital advertising screens. Now, they’ve taken 12 of those bins and added a special device, created by tech company Presence Aware, that can pick up the unique identification data — also known as a MAC address — of any wi-fi-enabled smartphone passing by. On a single day last month, the bins identified over 106,000 people by their MAC addresses. Renew CEO Kaveh Memari notes that the addresses don’t reveal names or any other personal data.
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What’s the Big Idea?
Memari says his company is still trying to sell the concept to retailers: With similar tracking devices installed in stores, a bin could eventually “recognize” a customer as they walk by and display targeted advertising. In response to whether the tracking gadgets invade people’s privacy, he says, “London is the most heavily surveillanced city in the world…As long as we don’t add a name and home address, it’s legal.” Unlike with Web sites, for which European Union laws require that users be informed when they’re being tracked, mobile devices with wi-fi aren’t subject to the same regulations. If Renew has its way, its bins will soon appear on streets in Kuala Lumpur and New York City, among other locations.